It’s Funny about Grief…

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I have my Bachelors degree in Accounting, my Masters degree in Sport Administration and my PhD in Greif.

The first two I earned with hard work and money at an accredited institution of higher learning. The last I earned through life, no formal classroom training required.

English: Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions

English: Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s funny about grief…

To say you never get over the death of a loved one is true on the facts only. Of course you never get over the loss, how could you? But you do learn eventually how to deal with it and incorporate it into a full and happy life.

They say happiness is a choice, anyway, right? And I completely agree with that statement. We choose how we view any situation and equally, how we are going to react.

Each loss is different, as well. I have lost a child, parent, sibling and grandparent in that order. On its face that’s messed up, if you ask me. Leave it to me to start big…

It’s funny about grief…

We both lost our son…same person…completely different approach.

But there is no right and no wrong way to feel and react (except if you harm yourself) and I think it is actually brave to get help from someone who does not know you and is trained to guide you through the labyrinth of emotion.

It’s funny about grief…

For as many times as I have experienced it I have never really gotten good at it. And, I think that is good.

Grief, for me, starts with a light blocking Kevlar blanket covering me and shielding me from the piercing cuts of sadness that permeate from the outside. Under its cover I can safely deny the depth of emotion and reality in front of me. You are never actually protected but the impenetrable veneer gives me at least the pretense of safety.

Then the Kevlar makes me hot and sweaty and I can barely catch my breath. Its presence makes me remember the reason for its existence and I fall into a deep depression, often removing myself from any type of social situation which would make me uncomfortable…which would be all of them.

Then, eventually the Kevlar is gone and a heavy wool blanket takes its place, still covering me with heavy protection all the while allowing at least a glimmer of light. The wool is itchy and makes me angry. And, I’m angry with everything.

A clerk wishes me a nice day and I get angry. How can I have a nice day?

A friend is expecting a child and I have to go to a baby shower to celebrate. But how?

A father is teaching a child how to ride a bike and I am filled with rage. How can life be simply going on?

It’s funny about grief…

The sun comes up every day. And, it sets every evening. All around the world life is going on.

Then, one day, I notice I am bouncing down the stairs. When did that happen?

I notice I wish the clerk a happy day in return.

I look forward to shopping for baby things and showering the expectant mother with love and best wishes.

I appreciate the simplicity of a father teaching a child how to ride a bike and feel the warmth reaching my heart.

It’s funny about grief…

Then, on an ordinary day, many years later,

I hear Mike and the Mechanics sing “All I Need is a Miracle” while driving and burst into tear laden singing at the top of my lungs.

“All I need is a miracle…all I need is you.” In context I know it’s a love song (or a lost love song) but in my own context it represented my greatest hope for a miracle which was not to come.

I am singing so violently that people can not only hear me through the sealed car but start to look with a mixture of worry and fear.

But then…

It’s funny about grief…

It’s because as quickly as the song enveloped me with sadness and memory, the vicious emotion passes and the moment of malaise is over. I dry my tears, brush off and move on.

If I have learned anything these past 25 years it is to allow myself the luxury of these strong emotions because when I actually feel them, feel the grips of despair, I know they are as fleeting as the shape of a cloud on a windy day.

Eventually, if you get past the denial, get help for the depression and allow the anger to dissipate into acceptance and acknowledgement, you will feel happy again. Even that bouncy happy that fills your heart with joy. Choose to be happy. I know you can do it.

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In The End…We Cry Alone

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English: Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions

English: Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When was the last time you experienced deep emotional trauma and you instantly perked up based on what someone said to you at that moment? Likely never.

Our own emotional filters are built for survival. If they were not, we would be crushed under the weight of our experience.

Wakes serve several purposes, as I see it. They are to allow people to express their sympathy and to help the grieving experience support from those who care.

I remember talking to my husband on the way back from Children’s Hospital after our son died. Absolutely no wake. No way. Not happening.

Then we had a wake.

My uncle convinced me to do it and I will be forever grateful. He said that if we did not do it then we would be denying those who care about us the opportunity to express their sadness over what happened. Every time we went to the grocery store we would have to “receive” someone who is seeing us for the first time. That could last years.

He was right, however there are only a few moments of those days I still remember with clarity. I remember when his team of cardiologists came in. They were crying more than us. The impact of their emotions is something I will never forget.

I remember when the three wonderful priests who married us eight short years before offered to concelebrate Mass. It was a huge honor.

Last, and this is the part I share that still stirs my heart even after all these years, I remember the absolute peace I felt walking out of the church singing How Great Thou Art at the top of my lungs. I don’t remember a single soul in that packed to the rafters church. It was just me and my God. Who knew it would be seven long years before I felt bouncy joy again?

I pity those who don’t have faith in a greater power…although they may pity me…who knows?

We go to wakes and funerals to express kindness and love to those who are grieving but I truly believe the people we call on are actually secondary to our purpose. Yes, we hug them, buy flowers and express condolences in cards and gifts but our tears are way more personal.

We most often cry remembering our own loss…when a friends child passes its like my heart getting ripped out of my chest. I feel that cold sweat sickness and am zoomed back in time.

Sometimes we move on as quickly as it takes to stop for coffee on the way home from a wake. But there is someone in that room that won’t feel that same bouncy joy for sometime to come.

I also know the way someone passes only matters at the beginning of the journey. The shock and horror at what happened in Connecticut is indescribable. They made their child a sandwich and sent them off to school. Gone in a flash.

But, after the shock passes, the end is the same.

My son’s death was like watching a horror film in slow motion. I am here to say, however, you are never prepared for it. You may see it coming but you are never prepared.

In the end, you are alone with your emotions and the inevitable reality that somehow, sometime you must move on.

I am not pompous enough to predict how another person will feel as they go on their journey of grief. I know it took me seven long years to have the bounce of joy back. Others may come from a healthier place and progress more quickly.

The holidays are upon us. We can turn the TV off and move on. Those folks touched by the tragedy have years of sadness ahead of them. The cameras will move on to another trauma. Set a reminder to yourself in six months to pray for them. Pray that someday they get their bouncy joy back.

Joy does come back. Believe it will.

Meanwhile, we all cry alone.

I’ll Level With You…I Love The Youngstown Yacht Club

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It was Memorial Day weekend, 1988. It was only two weeks after the death of my son. In weeks that spanned less than two months my son died, my father sold his business, I became unemployed, I turned 30 and had an emergency appendectomy.

A dear friend invited my husband and me to dinner at the Youngstown Yacht Club. We ordered cocktails and sat outside by the dock sipping and chatting with their friends. I knew a few of them from my Lew-Port days and others were new to me. No one was in a hurry to dine and when we did we gained at least six more people at our original table for four.

It was all so very civilized.

What I did not know then was that it would change the course of my life for years to come. At dinner I sat next to a man named Bob Finn. He and his wife Barbara owned Yachting World, the local yachting supply store. It seemed that he needed a bookkeeper and seeing as I was dazed and unemployed it seemed a good idea to hire me to work in an industry I had absolutely no knowledge of.

I had relative anonymity only one mile from my house because most of the people who I came in contact to on a daily basis knew nothing about me. I didn’t have to wear a name tag that said “Hug me, my son is in heaven!” The people I did meet were kind and the job was relatively easy. Previously I handled a payroll of 150 and now it was only five or six. Mr. Finn was no more demanding than my father and I sincerely enjoyed learning something new.

I learned about cleats and winches, telltales and wind meters. I loved that most of the people were happy largely because they were spending their leisure time spending their leisure money. This was so unlike the car business where you could count on at least one person a day yelling at the cashier because she was personally responsible for the fact they needed a break job.

I met Granny Orr, also known as the Mouth of the River, because she did much of the PA work at the Level Regatta. “Hurry hurry hurry! This nice young man is looking for a bikini clad young lady to crew on his boat.” She was a classic. When my son Anthony was born a few years later she knit the most beautiful Christmas stocking which we still hang every year.

20120726-222931.jpgIf you are near the Youngstown Saturday morning come and hear me sing the American and Canadian national anthems.

    Have a yummy day! 20120726-211439.jpgJudeTheFoodie.com

Even Angels Need Birthday Cake

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Things I learned the “Summer of 1984”

Even angels need birthday cake.

(Recipe included http://judethefoodie.com/2012/07/02/rich-golden-cake/)

Just because he only got three cakes does not mean we should stop celebrating that he was born!

 Our overuse of the word awesome has actually devalued it.

Incorrect use: Oh wow, this movie is awesome!

CORRECT USE: It’s so awesome that she can operate on a babie’s heart, the size of a walnut!

Incorrect use: You got us tickets to the game? Awesome!

CORRECT USE: He’s breathing on his own? Awesome!

Today is the best day I’ll ever have.

There are no guarantees so make the best of every day.

Karel Soucek is one crazy dude.

 http://www.infoniagara.com/niagaradaredevils/karelsoucek.aspx  Tom came into the recovery room at Mt. St. Mary’s Hospital and told me this guy went over the falls and lived. Six months later tries to jump into a ten foot barrel in the Houston Astrodome and hits the side. He was no Nik Wallenda!

 Pediatric Cardiologists and Pediatric Cardiothoracic Surgeons are two different specialties.

I had no idea that first you see a cardiologist who performs the diagnostics then you see the surgeon (who often has the bedside manner of a brick).

McDonalds has great coffee.

In the lobby of CHOP (http://www.chop.edu/ Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia) there was a McDonalds. We got a coffee and cinnamon rolls every day. Never underestimate the power of good coffee.

 If a surgeon offers to try the newest surgery on your child…run, don’t walk to the surgeon who does.

The surgeon at the time at Buffalo Children’s Hospital had never done the surgery called the switch. In fact, it had only been performed fewer than two dozen times. He said he’d try.

Mortality rates become a sobering statistic when you are talking about state of the art medical intervention.

We said “no thank you” and became the first family to take our child away from Buffalo for open heart surgery. I guess all legacies come to an end.

Sometimes a hole in your heart is a good thing.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rashkind_balloon_atrial_septostomy Tommy’s pediatric cardiologist turned out to be a world renowned doctor. My sister-in-law Mary had not been at CHOP for a month when Tommy was born. When his diagnosis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transposition_of_the_great_vessels) was made she went directly to Dr. Rashkind’s office and is singularly responsible for having him take her nephew on as a patient.

In the end, faith is all we have.

Things are often not what they seem.

I saw a man tossing a little boy up in the air in an enjoining waiting room and felt a pang of jealousy. My husband reminded me there was likely a very serious reason why those two should be in that room. Reframe: thank God they had that playful time together.

The sound of laughter in a hospital is not at all strange.

Superheroes wear masks…and scrubs.

When it’s too hard to pray, too hard to think beyond the next moment, I discovered there are countless and nameless people who are doing the praying for you.

July 2, 1984 – Happy birthday Tommy III – forever young…